Revival Eastside Eatery energizes East Waco

by Cole Nowell | January 30, 2020

The abandoned building that housed Waco Community Baptist Church was a glorified antique decoration, infested with rats. 

But that didn’t stop Danielle and Travis Young from transforming it into a hip new eatery.

Snugly situated on Elm Avenue in East Waco and surrounded by buildings that seem untouched in many years, lies Revival Eastside Eatery. Decorated with an aqua-blue fence, pine-green brick and a mural that proudly invites you to the East Side, the new restaurant is a beacon in a part of Waco that is receiving renewed attention.

Revival was a part of this community just four months ago, when it was known as Waco Community Baptist Church. It had been years since anyone even entered the building.      This was not enough to discourage Danielle and Travis Young from seeing the potential lying in the subtle charm of the church’s architecture and location. Their entrepreneurial spirit was able to see opportunity lying within the building’s dusty remains.

“Our friends thought we were crazy,” Danielle said, regarding their decision to use the church as the location for her business. “We just felt there was beauty in there somewhere.”

The church was originally built in the 1930s, and their vision for the restaurant involved incorporating the rustic elements of the building into its new look, according to Danielle. The result is a mix of concrete floors, exposed brick and hanging light fixtures taken from numerous old Waco buildings to create a unique charm from the old building’s history.

Danielle is originally from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She came to Waco to earn a Ph.D. in psychology from Baylor in 2011. Although she hadn’t taken a risk like starting up a business before, her motivation for the restaurant was that she and her husband could not find a place where they enjoyed eating, she said. They decided to give the East Side a place with healthier, fresher options.

Another motivation for choosing to start a business in her college town was because of the community.

“The best part about Waco is the people,” Danielle said. “Waco kind of sucks you in after a while. You never want to leave.”

The combination of fresher food and charming atmosphere has been a hit with customers. Sophomore Andrew Clinkenbeard liked both of these things about Revival.

“The food was excellent quality compared to most places in Waco,” Clinkenbeard said. “The atmosphere was welcoming and felt like a good place to just sit and talk.”

Travis said he recognizes the success of Revival shows how there is “tons and tons of potential” for businesses in the East Side, particularly in the neighborhood’s location to many Waco landmarks.

“It’s too close to everything to not be hustling and bustling,” Travis said. 

When the idea of starting a restaurant first entered their minds, however, they were not as optimistic. It was originally Danielle’s idea, and when she presented it to her husband seven years ago, he was initially just as hesitant as their friends were. To make matters murkier, when the Youngs asked Ted Browning of Shorty’s Pizza Shack about the idea of starting a restaurant in the East Side, the response was clear and concise: “Don’t do it.”

The Youngs knew it would be hard work juggling the different challenges starting a business provides, especially one that involves renovating an old and abandoned building.

In the end, Travis’ confidence in his wife was greater than his doubts. He said “Danielle’s too smart and data-driven” for these challenges to get the better of her. As a result, he eventually got on board with the idea, and only a few months into Revival’s existence, it is already not just the talk of Elm Avenue but the greater Waco community, too.

The couple said the fact that a regular crowd comes in every day adds a more personalized feel to the restaurant. This makes the day-to-day even more enjoyable and can make the numerous parts of managing a business seem more worth the effort.

“A regular crowd indicates that we’re doing something right,” Danielle said.

As opposed to simply working at a chain and going through the monotony of serving dozens of unrecognizable faces, the relationship with some of the regulars at Revival has reached the point where “they’re like family now,” Travis said.

This communal aspect shows the potential of the East Side for businesses. The benefits of a more community-driven atmosphere has also spread to the staff of the restaurant. 

Eric Smith said the “community feeling” that the East Side provides makes his work as a cook all the more meaningful. Sam Davis said he feels like there is “more of a purpose” to his work as a cook with being able to talk with the many regulars. Davis said he feels the impact Revival has had on the East Side will attract more potential startups in the future.

The Youngs may even be a part of this future growth, as they both share visions of having other outlets for their entrepreneurial spirit. Although the couple said they are still “feeling out” the different challenges of running a restaurant provides. They are confident, though, in the long-term success of not just Revival but other new restaurants in Waco. The constant construction downtown means it is only a matter of time until the East Side grows as well, the Youngs said.

For Travis, though, they are just worried about the short-term challenges that life as an entrepreneur brings, and the day-to-day grind sometimes clouds visions of the future.

“I do hope we get to do more things,” he said. “I’m just not sure what those would be yet.”

Revival is a testament to the impact that a willingness to act on one’s desires to change the community can have. If more entrepreneurs come along with just as much spirit and vision as the Youngs then it is very possible Elm Avenue will return to the prosperity in business it once had, while also taking a page out of Revival’s book and preserving the rustic feel it’s earned over many years.